There is always a twinge of sadness touched with hope when I read something by John Stott. Sadness that he has left us to be with Christ, hope that much of the profound spirit-filled wisdom he has left behind may yet impact the Church. I thoroughly enjoyed his final book, “The Radical Disciple”, and so embarked on today’s book with excitement. “The Living Church” is Stott’s ecclesiology, coming at the end of a fruitful life of service to Christ’s church.
This is superbly well laid out book. His preface, ‘Emerging Churches’ demonstrates that Stott well understood the need for Evangelical clarity on what church is, whilst the first part, ‘Essentials’, lays out the four things that Stott felt were central to his understanding of ‘God’s vision for his church’. Covering everything under just four headings, Stott identifies – and then expands in the body of the book – that God’s church should be learning, caring, worshipping and evangelising.
The headline four essentials are expanded into other ideas, but his central thesis about ‘church’ is clear throughout. Stott paints a wonderful picture of Worship – moving beyond the debate over what proper worship is in a musical context, to remind us that worship must be Biblical, Congregational, Spiritual, and Moral. This is worship for the whole life – and worship for the whole church. Stott was well known in some circles for his evangelistic gifts, and the next section deals with his understanding of this in the context of Church. Interestingly, having dealt with Forms of evangelism, Stott then focuses on the background; “The Church must understand itself: its theology. The Church must organize itself: its structures. The church must express itself: its message. The church must be itself: its life“. Stott essentially nails the groundwork for evangelism by encouraging us to consider what church is – the body that the evangelised are brought into – as a fundamental part of our strategy.
The following sections deal with important bits of the Church; Ministry, Fellowship, Preaching, Giving, and Impact: Salt and Light. In classic Stott fashion the section on preaching is superb, as he examines five paradoxes of preaching; “Biblical and contemporary, Authoritative and tentative, Prophetic and pastoral, Gifted and studied, Thoughtful and passionate“. The section on salt and light makes for particularly needed reading, particularly in the UK where this tension is often fuzzy, or even ignored. Much of what Stott writes in this section also appears in his larger “The Contemporary Christian”, which I hope to review (and make a copy available in a competition!) soon.
The final two sections of this book are perhaps the most interesting – if not always the most practically applicable! The first is the conclusion, where Stott passionately appeals for a new generation of ‘Timothys’, Christian Gospel leaders, to rise up to serve the church. There are then three appendices, in addition to an autobiographical sketch. The first of these is a powerful essay, “Why I am still a member of the Church of England” – I would love to have Stott around now to ask him if, with all that the C of E is going through, he would remain so. Secondly is “I have a dream of a living church”, Stott’s hope that the Church will continue, lively and radical, as God has promised. The final appendix is fascinating, one that few reading this review can sympathise with, but that many of us can learn from; “Reflections of an octogenarian”.
This is a very ‘John Stott’ book. His hallmark of ‘double listening’ permeates the whole thing, whether it be his challenge to traditionalists to listening to emergents or vice versa, or his wonderful picture of a Church that is both out-focused and God-focused. This book is vintage Stott; methodical, biblical, and radical in the best sense. I’d highly commend it to anyone seeking to understand what an evangelical understanding of Church might be, or who wants to start thinking about that mysterious beast known as ‘ecclesiology’. If I am ever involved in church leadership or church planting, this book will no doubt end up being thumbed over regularly!]